Conventional kitchen wisdom says you only need a few quality tools in the kitchen to cook pretty much anything. I counter that certain tools, though "they" may call them superfluous, really do make it easier, and more likely, for the home cook to try certain things. That's been the case for me, anyways.
Take my food processor, for example. Once I got it, I made a lot more (and a lot better) pesto. Also, blended bean dips and other thicker dips made a more regular appearance at the table. There were just some things that my blender couldn't do very well.
My crock-pot allows me to cook when I don't have the time or the energy. I just put good ingredients in, turn it on, and walk away. It saves me time, and saves me from eating out and spending money.
Then there was the Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Since it's arrival, I'm much more likely to do a cake from scratch, to make frosting, and to make bread even when I'm super busy.
And, of course, I can't forget the knives. My first Wusthof, then my santoku, opened up a whole new world of effecicient, effortless chopping.
My most recent purchase was a large skillet with a wide bottom. It's heavy like a cast-iron, but non-stick. And, the large surface area makes reducing a breeze. I've made sauces in a snap, shortened cooking time on soups and stews, and have finally learned how to saute properly.
Though most of these--other than the knives--aren't essential for a kitchen, they are now essential for my kitchen.
Here's a quick recipe that uses two of my tools to make a fast, tasty, fresh pasta sauce.
Slow Cooker tomato sauce
Several fresh tomatoes
large handful basil
1/4 cup red wine
4 garlic cloves, peeled
salt and pepper to taste
You'll also need a slow cooker, a blender or food processor, and a wide-bottomed saute pan with a lot of surface area.
Cut the tomatoes into big chunks. Toss them into the slow cooker with the other ingredients. Turn to low, and go to work.
Come home, and stir. Turn off heat, open lid. Carefully put mixture into blender. Blend until smooth. Be careful as it will be hot so pulse the blender until you're sure the lid won't pop off.
Transfer sauce to wide-bottomed saucepan. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Go for a little less salty than you think you need since it will be saltier when you reduce it.
Turn burner to high, and heat sauce until it starts bubbling. Turn heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce gets the thickness you want. For pasta, you'll want it thinner. For pizza, you'll want it pretty thick.
When the sauce gets as thick as you want, turn off the burner, and taste one more time, and see if it needs more salt or pepper. Here is where you'd add fresh herbs, a little more salt or pepper, some heavy cream, or even a shot of vodka.
Serve on whatever you like.